Shelden, who is on sabbatical from teaching English this semester, has agreed to talk about his research and book, “Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill,” at locations in five major cities, including Chicago’s Newberry Library and New York City’s Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium and Philadelphia’s Union League in April. “At this stage in my career, a lot of stuff happens because … people react to what I’ve done,” Shelden said. “I’ve given a lot of talks in the past year, and they’ve attracted some attention.”
The series is organized by the Royal Oak Foundation, in alliance with the National Trust of England, and is sponsored by the Drue Heinz Trust as a way to promote British culture in America. Heinz, an American patron of the arts and third wife of the ketchup mogul, is publisher of the literary magazine The Paris Review. Other speakers include Tracy Borman, chief curator for the charity that manages the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and others, and Lord Robert Sackville, a British publisher, author and guardian of the great former Tudor palace Knole.
“Obviously, they want good speakers, and they find out who have been giving talks lately. I guess I qualify,” said Shelden, who was a Pulitzer finalist in 1991 and was the National Author Winner for the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award last year.
Although many of the speakers are British, Shelden easily qualifies as an honorary Brit for his body of work and many trips across the pond. “British culture is not something I go out seeking. It’d be preaching to the choir,” said Shelden, who has visited England 55 times, staying as long as two months at a time.
For 15 years, Shelden worked as a writer at London’s equivalent of the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, which at the time had a circulation of one million. All of his articles were written in British English, oftentimes under deadline pressure. “I was really proud of that fact. For many years, I was the only American who wrote for the Telegraph,” he said. “And all of this from Terre Haute, Ind.”
Fittingly — and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing — one of Shelden’s editors was the granddaughter of Churchill. His first book was actually first printed in England, not the United States. Of all the locations Shelden will visit this spring, he’s most excited about the Newberry Library — a sacred place for people who love books and literature. In addition to rare documents and early books such as a Gutenberg Bible and first edition Shakespeare folio, Newberry has the largest collection of Herman Melville works, including a first edition of “Moby Dick,” when it was then known as “The Whale.”
Shelden’s latest project, due out next year, is on Melville during the writing of “Moby Dick.” Appropriately, Shelden’s publisher was also Melville’s. “Way back 150 years ago, Harper and Brothers published ‘Moby Dick,’ and now called HarperCollins, they’re publishing my book,” Shelden said.
Before embarking on the Heinz lectureship, Shelden will be traveling to Barcelona for an appearance about George Orwell and his book, “Orwell: The Authorized Biography.” “It’s a really important thing. Orwell was nearly killed there — he was shot during the Spanish Civil War. Many of the ideas he had about ‘big brother’ … originated in Spain,” he said.
Just counting Shelden’s biographies, many of which have been translated into different languages and recorded as audiobooks, he’s written 2,500 printed pages. “That’s a lot — you’re starting to get into encyclopedia territory. It’s kind of like long-distance running. You don’t set out to write that much,” he said.
For more information about the Heinz lecture series, go to www.royal-oak.org/lectures.
Contact: Michael Shelden, professor of English, Indiana State University, 812-237-3261 or Michael.Shelden@indstate.edu
Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or email@example.com